Recording Agreement Explained Part 1: Rights and Exclusivity

Okay, so the recording contract. The thing most musicians dream and strive for. So well done, you are now presented with one. It is important not to get carried away. First off, THE RECORD COMPANY IS NOT THE ENEMY, so approach with caution not angry scepticism. You need to take a deep breath and consider what all that legal jargon is trying to say. I mean, your music is your baby; you want it taken care of.

So what is a recording contract?

In simple terms, it is a legal agreement between the recording artist and recording label whereby the label is given the right to promote and sell the contracted record or records. What an artist needs to be aware of is the number of different, additional conditions attached to this arrangement.

Rights & Exclusivity:

This is the important one people. The term ‘sole and exclusive’ will pop up throughout the contract regarding the many rights to do with you and your music. The areas covered will include:

(a)  The artist will be bound to the label for a specified period to produce an album (or single or EP.) as well as be forbidden from working with other labels.

(b)  The label will exclusively own the copyright to those songs for the duration of copyright (or an agreed shorter period –often called ‘Rights Period’). Label will also prevent artist from rerecording those songs for a certain time.

(c)  The label will also have the ‘sole and exclusive’ right to exploit that product in any media, to grant licenses for compilations, synchronisation and other profit making ventures.

So, what to look out for regarding all this stuff:

Firstly, some clauses may state they do not require your Prior Approval for certain ventures, such as the choice of promotional photos, or in issuing of licences for your recording. This can raise problems, as you may not want your song to feature on an ad for nuclear power (due to moral/ethical reasons) or that photo in which you looked ‘fat’ and you want them to ask you before publishing it.

You can ask to change certain clauses to require your permission for use; this should be clearly outlined in the contract to prevent headaches in the future.

Secondly, the music exploitation section of the contract will often make reference to Moral Rights. These moral rights protect the musician(s) reputation by guaranteeing them:

(a) identification as the author of that music and

(b) the right to object to the derogatory treatment of that work, to preserves it’s integrity against alteration and distortion,(you know, when musicians cry “that’s not my song, what did you do to it!”).

There are parts of recording contracts which will say that you waive these rights. You can ask them to change this in the contract, so you have a say in regards to what they may do to the Masters in the future, thereby maintaining some control.

by Julia Bell and Juan Lopez.

Image source: Yale Law Library

For quality recording contract templates please visit The Music Law Contracts website

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